A CITY ADRIFT…COPS IN JEOPARDY
If you want a “PERFECT STORM” to inflict upon the cops in a city, to demoralize and endanger them even as you expect more and more of them, you need look no farther than Seattle.
The reality here, described as DE-POLICING by Federal Monitor Merrick Bobb, is evident in the actions and utterances of many of Seattle's Finest. Many have confirmed the case in conversations with folks around the City; significant numbers of police commanders say it as well. As you will see…you can’t blame them.
De-policing is a defensive posture in which cops seek to minimize their engagement with the public to avoid complaints and other consequences developed in a fire of criticism and hostility that has been fueled by the selfish or simply stupid interests of a few politicians, so-called community leaders and very certainly the media.
Who can blame the cops? They face danger on the streets while feeling the "heat on their backsides" from an ill-defined "REFORM PROCESS" poorly managed by a Federal cadre that is hearing too much from the wrong people, to the exclusion of temperate voices, thus crippling the very reform they contend they are dedicated to.
Make no mistake...there have been failures at SPD that sorely need repair. Look at the cop stomping the man who was down and cuffed in one incident, or the cop who ran into the downtown convenience store and started playing "Karate Kid" on a suspect who was clearly not aggressive at the time. Look at the horrible "execution" of the woodcarver John Williams by a terribly misguided cop who was in no danger whatsoever at the time. This is gross, even criminal, misconduct. There are other such incidents, to be sure, but no epidemic.
Management failure in the far greatest part has led to this state of affairs and to the Federal presence. Management failures that have taken root after twenty-plus years of inept leadership by this or that "special Chief of Police" brought in by "special people” at City Hall in league with "special people" from community groups. They have failed repeatedly over thirty-plus years yet they go unchallenged.
This "Inevitable Aristocracy" that all cities produce too often displaces voices from the wider community when these "special selections" occur. This needs to be a conversation all by itself in the near future. The cast of characters needs to change.
It needs to be said here that the new Chief, Kathleen O'Toole, has generated some initial encouragement in the ranks of retired cops like me. But she has to directly and publicly - and soon pick up the pace of real leadership at SPD and overcome the impression that she has first and foremost to "dance to the Federal Tune." More on that to come.
SO THE QUESTION...WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS MESS?
There is plenty of blame to go around. Time to look at the most troubling examples. But first we need to promptly dispose of the cancerous notion that there has been major misconduct and abuse by a significant number of cops anywhere in this City that legitimizes the magnitude of this Circus. Even the most strident critics of SPD officers have never made that case because it is not the truth, but hysteria and prejudice substitute well in their minds.
What we are treated to by our local media, whose job is to open civic issues to intelligent examination, are endless repeats of the unholy footage of a few cops in glaring examples of misconduct and unquestioning repetition of the exaggerated claims of the critics.
It is actual mismanagement by some at the high levels of SPD that has precipitated need for "REFORM," but the efforts should be measured and focused on that failure and not become this "Barnum and Bailey Extravaganza" feeding on hackneyed footage of a few cops gone wrong.
It is at that level (management) where the problem of poor training and discipline originate and it must be fixed first. And then effective responses to the occasional misconduct by a few cops will follow in a proper manner.
AS TO THOSE RESPONSIBLE:
THERE IS A PATHETIC AND WELL RECORDED HISTORY of the origin(s) and perpetuation of this malaise. It reaches back to several Mayors and cops. With that said...and leaving it to further scrutiny when that might be appropriate...lets pick up the trail with the past year's drama. Let’s look to "Special" Ed Murray:
Ed rides into office with no claim whatsoever to understand policing and cops in any but the most abstract way and quickly announces that POLICE REFORM, not police service, is an absolute priority. He gathers "advisers" and community voices and the impression is promoted by the media that the new Mayor is obviously "in command."
Ed soon looks in on "Acting Chief" Jim Pugel, who was appointed by Mike McGinn a short while before. Pugel has already impressed Merrick Bobb at the Federal office by making a determined effort to set the real needed reform(s) in motion at SPD.
Special Ed joins in that endorsement and the cops begin to hope that some stability is at hand. But Pugel, acting with the necessary resolve, demotes three top commanders as part of the revitalization all agree is needed at SPD command. But...not so fast here....
One of the "demotees" is Nick Metz, who is now said to be "the Black Guy" by longtime "community voice" Harriet Walden who has has had a longstanding presence in public conversations about the police department. Note here: Nick Metz never to my memory made any issue of his race.
The gist of it is this: Pugel never condescends to publicly rationalize these moves. He acts as a responsible commander should, and not the least of his concerns is that anyone subject to such movement deserves some dignity and privacy and absolutely should not be stigmatized or diminished by unnecessary disclosures.
Yet, without a moment hesitation, Harriet cries out to the media something to the effect of "That's right...BLAME IT ON THE BLACK GUY!" Harriet offers no evidence or even argument that Metz is being singled out as a fall guy here. Metz alone wasn’t reassigned! Two “WHITE GUYS” went with him!
Harriet didn’t even need to offer any evidence that Metz was singled out. Special Ed immediately responds to this blatant "race card" play. He sacks poor Jim Pugel, a shattering blow to the "stability" the cops had come to hope for and an unholy precursor of folly to come.
Moving to further placate Harriet (and God only knows who else), Special Ed rounds up recently retired Harry Bailey (an even Blacker Guy?) and installs him as Acting Chief but on condition that Harry foreswear any appetite for the position permanently. Special Ed doesn't seem to see the significance of his “limitation” here. He seemingly tosses Harry out as a sort of token, apparently to further placate Harriet, et. al.
Harry is well and affectionately held by the cops across the street, with whom he served for thirty-plus years. This "limitation" further signals that "stability" may never be taken for granted in the realm of Ed Murray. (Interestingly, even a few "journalists" have remarked on occasion that Ed is a little "mercuric" when confronted.)
Within a few days the hapless Harry steps in to resume some of the work Pugel had started, cleaning up some disciplinary problems that had festered far too long in the dysfunctional mess that was command at SPD.
Knowing that such uncertainty is destructive of morale, Harry settled the cases (none of which involved any "high crime or misdemeanor" against the public) and sought to move on to the work at hand. But...not so fast...
Minor incidents that should be promptly dealt with are the very choice fodder for the "Hyper-Critics" of the cops...who exaggerate such modest matters into their inflated tirades...and like Harriet with her "BLAME IT" tirade. Murray soon heard from these folks...and once again he chose to cut-and-run!
Murray initially endorsed this "house-cleaning" by both Pugel and Bailey but now he had to scurry. So he runs Harry up on the gallows (the good old press conference) with his "Machiavellian" mystery adviser Bernie Melechian nearby in the background. Harry has to eat humble pie, recanting Pugel's practical decisions that he had in turn endorsed.
Harry deserved better. This matter should have been resolved quietly, with the media aware but not agitated by the theatrics. Special Ed lost even more "cred" with the cops, and the Mayor's Office didn't have much in the bank to begin with.
So, in one bold capitulation, Special Ed establishes a brand new standard for personnel management. What “classes of city employees” can now expect such political filtration of their assignments, Ed? With the passion for special classes here in Seattle it is likely going to be everybody…but white folk.
THE OTHER BRIGHT LIGHTS AT CITY HALL
Swirling around all this melodrama in real time, the City Council has maintained its own "Special Place" over on stage left, not much to mention beyond the predictable meandering they present about this critical sort of issue. They add little in the way of focus here, and can only be counted on to provide the "dignified aloofness" that is a Council specialty.
But fear not, there is another actor at City Hall that more than makes up for the vacuum the Council serves up...our stalwart City Attorney Peter (PETEY?) Holmes. Here is a guy who would walk on hot coals before he would miss a slap at the working cop.
We don't even have to present the list here. Petey won’t let anyone forget his wretched campaign to demean and hinder the working cops in Seattle. In this he serves as a priceless megaphone for the garden variety "cop-bashers" that infest so much of the public discourse here in the Emerald City.
Let me say again here - there are very real problems at SPD. No one knows it better than the cops and they want these problems fixed. But constantly and indiscriminately kicking them in the teeth when they are caught in such a political crossfire is unbecoming of a City Official who is himself sworn to the public interest. Has he no sense of the demoralizing effect he has? Will nobody inform him?
ENTER NOW…THE FEDERALES
Look now at the Federal apparatus. Inevitable tensions in the police - community relationship in cities like Seattle lead in many cases to these "Federal Adoptions," virtual takeovers of police departments on the marginal premise that they have become so corrupted they are a danger to the very public they serve.
This "Adoption" exercise has literally become an industry with outside advisers and monitors plying their trade whenever the Federal system chooses. Money is made here, and the longer the "adoption" period, the more money to be distributed. That former "police administrator" types join this industry in significant numbers raises questions that no one has even asked with any clarity, what needs to be done and who is folowing the money? One such fellow in Oakland managed to bank about a quarter million before he was located.
The common litany of offenses identified in “the profiling” of the given police agency becomes rather standard stuff, guaranteed to stir the radical heart. EXCESSIVE USE OF FORCE... PROFILING... SELECTIVE ENFORCEMENT ...for starters. The menu is rounded out with real or imagined specifics from city to city.
In point of fact, most of these "sins" are occasionally committed in the routine of policing in most cities and towns. Once upon a time there was very little accountability, but social pressures (from the sixties on) pushed this unholy situation out into the open and much has been done to correct the problem in the interim, even if the “cop-bashers” marginalize it to keep things stirred up.
EFFORTS AT ACCOUNTABILITY…AND ACCOMMODATION
The emergence of the Internal Investigation process in police agencies, which is by no means perfect and in fact has become a problem itself for the public, has been improved by increasing civilian review boards and committees. It is this latter process which must become the final mechanism for review and resolution of police / community concerns and conflicts. This evolution will free up cops currently maintaining appearances in the Internal Investigation Division to go back to productive public safety efforts at a time when they are sorely needed.
Meanwhile, the Federal process is free to move along unfettered for the most part by recognition of these earlier but ongoing efforts. The Feds initiate entirely subjective “indictments” from that list of generic elements but with very little specificity as to how many incidents of, say, excessive force have been identified, and even less specificity about how many and particularly which cops might be involved.
SO BEGINS THE DECLINE
Make no mistake…this is where the demoralization of the working cop begins. They are all stigmatized by this “shotgun approach” even as some may well have intervened to put an end to such abuses they see very few of their fellows practice. While cops generally have a subtle feeling that the great number of folks they serve do not prejudice them so, there is a paranoia nonetheless, never knowing when an opportunistic critic may be around. That paranoia is one of the basic fuels of the DE-POLICING that Federal Monitor Merrick Bobb notes in his public utterances. Bobb needs to answer the question: isn’t this “de-policing” a predictable and common consequence of these “Adoptions”and the pall they cast? Shouldn't he utter some words to quiet this fear from time to time?
There are other support players in this Federal cast. Recently departed U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkin was always available for a chorus of essentially-marginal police department bashing. She will be missed at choir practice.
The principal other is Federal Judge James Robart. who has been assigned to enforce the City adherence to the federal demands. He has been a stern task-master. His orders and demands are well recorded in the media, as have been the responses of the City and notably in recent months of Katie O’Toole (which we will come to in a moment). But an extremely telling utterance from Judge Robart came as a result of a complaint by a significant number of SPD officers that the new “use-of-force-mandates” were too subjective and in fact would place the officers in danger if not modified to reflect the realities they face on the street all too often. With little apparent objectivity, not even allowing the complainants to produce witnesses (notably retired veterans cops and including a number or retired commanders), he tossed the troubled cops out on their ears with the comment that "WE ARE NOT GOING BACK TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS!”
“WE ARE NOT GOING BACK TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS” INDEED! Could there be a more telling indictment, a more telling expression of prejudice, a more telling exposure of the failing of this "Federal Adoption" process than to have the very arbiter, the master of the art, publicly declare over one hundred cops guilty of an attempt to return to some vague past where (he cynically suggests, if not states) they were in league in a practice of brutality and abuse of authority?? What else could he have been inferring?
Judge Robart needs to explain this. Yet who will ask him? The mayor has not! Chief O’Toole has not! Merrick Bobb has not! Jenny Durkin has not! AND THE MEDIA CERTAINLY HAVE NOT!
This sort of prejudicial expression (condemnation!) is precisely the sort a proper Judge would never allow in a proceeding in the Courtroom. If attorneys tried to slip in so improper a remark they might well hear a contempt warning, at least, from the bench.
OUR OTHER PLAYERS
I might stop here but there are a couple more players who need mention:
Over time I have canvassed the streets of business zones and adjacent residential areas, carrying the challenge to step up and lobby City Hall and SPD to re-vitalize operations with a return to a greater public uniform presence…with an eye on preventing more crime and restoring a sense of safety and dignity to our public places.
The essence of that effort would be to place more of the non-uniform personnel in distinctive garb…either the regular uniform or a distinctive blazer...and have them join the patrol forces in public wherever trouble can be anticipated. This is covered in this Blog in an entry called WHERE THE HELL ARE THE COPS??
Scores of people in downtown businesses and neighborhoods have been the primary focus, given that the very heart of this City has been plagued for shameful years with street crime and outrage. From the high-end bistros and boutiques to the hot-dog stand on the corner, countless contacts and never once a negative response to the idea of more “cops-on-the-corner”! Civic organizations like the Downtown Seattle Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the major media houses…you name it…are all in agreement expressing momentary enthusiasm.
But then??...Silence! No challenge to the media to do more than ex post facto obituary-writing (the next horror story of an assault, rape or homicide; the drug sales and every sort of thievery, with film-at-eleven). No call for a TOWN MEETING, no HELL-RAISING AT CITY HALL, just a seeming acquiescence until the next outrage occurs to rattle them and their colleagues. Civic Seattle has all the hubris but none of the guts to take a hand in the recovery of this beautiful City where they make their considerable fortunes. They serve their gourmet plates, pour their Micro-Brews and fill their publicly funded Stadia with instant millionaire sports stars, then quietly stroll past the ubiquitous mayhem all around them. Enough said about “Civic Lights”!
BUT REAL LOCAL HEROES REMAIN
One has to mention that “local heroes” are thankfully always around. Their efforts in service and community organizations can’t be discounted. But it also can’t be “counted on”…expected to overcome the problems the civic establishment tolerates and exacerbates. They can’t be expected to take on the whole City.
An example is the movement(s) in neighborhood/community areas to reach into their pockets and fund increased police patrol presence (off-duty SPD officers) for the added protection of themselves and certainly their neighbors. Their determination may have hoped-for results in their neighborhoods, and more power to them. Four such efforts are already in motion in Madison Park, Windemere, Laurelhurst the Whittier community in Ballard.
But there is a downside here: The threat of the City becoming even more polarized along the have-vs-have-not barricades. Not all communities are coherent or wealthy enough to take these measures. And to the degree that City Hall encourages this all…it has a hand in the further decline of safety and civility in Seattle. Has anyone heard a word from “Special Ed” about this?
TO BE CONTINUED with narrative regarding Katie O’Toole and her early efforts.